Fire all the janitors and make poor kids clean their schools? Zap Korea with an airborne super laser that's never worked during testing? Ignore global warming and plan to re-engineer the entire planet with untested technology instead?
People like Maureen Dowd have been having fun with Newt Gingrich's wackier ideas lately. But despite their snarky comments - and the fact that some of Gingrich's ideas truly are bizarre - they're missing something important and making a fundamental mistake.
They're seriously underestimating both Gingrich and the "Insane Idea Industry" he represents.
The Shock of the Newt
Gingrich may sound like the mad-inventor villain from a 1930's movie serial. But his eccentric concepts and pseudo-intellectual logorrhea aren't just the product of his own eccentricities. They're the natural flowering of a fifty-year trend in corporate conservatism which serves the agenda of the ultra-powerful in some very important ways.
Call him Dr. Strange. But Newt's not some Random Idea Generator who spews out whatever crazy notion his id generates out of half-digested Popular Science blog posts. He's merely the latest in a long line of conservative "thinkers" who play a vital role for Corporate America: They generate an ongoing barrage of radical ideas that, slowly but surely, help to undermine our country's shared social vision.
What's next: Ending Medicare by putting seniors in a post-hypnotic trance state so they think they're not dying from inadequate medical care? A flock of flying squirrels to deliver the mail? Invisible robot St. Bernards instead of ambulances?
No idea is too zany to be considered - as long as it serves The Agenda.
The Crazier the Better
Think of Gingrich as the secret love child of Milton Friedman and Howard Stern. Or of nuclear-war advocate Herman Kahn and Marilyn Manson. Newt's brand of conservative "idea generation" is designed, first and foremost, to get lots of attention - which it has - and to make the values we've held for generations seem stale, rigid, and somehow less exciting than the futuristic corporate oligarchy of tomorrow.
Shock value is just as important as the ideas themselves. In fact, it's more important. The Newt conservatives are conducting an intellectual guerrilla operation against deeply held values of the common good. Most of the ideas aren't intended to be practical. They're like performance art, but of a kind that's designed to reinforce the suggestion that our old way of life is failing.
Newt is merely the latest and most conspicuous example of this Insane Idea Factory in action. There's plenty more where he came from.
And the crazier the idea, the better. There are no rules and no boundaries, even those of common decency. Firing janitors and making poor kids clean the schools instead? That's creative thinking! Ending Social Security and putting the financial security of a nation's elderly at risk? That's innovation! These liberals won't think outside the box!
For all their carping about 'liberal dreamers,' there are no more impractical and wild-eyed dreamers on the planet than Gingrich and his fellow Conservative Utopians. They love coming up with the kinds of ideas that college students used to have in the sixties when they were getting high in their dorm rooms. The difference is that the college students were straight again in the morning.
But in the halls of conservative think tanks, the lava lamps never stop burning.
Herman Kahn wrote a book called Thinking the Unthinkable in which he argued that the US could attack the Soviet Union and start a nuclear war and "win." That laid the foundation for decades more of a pointless and costly arms race, and spawned a whole industry of intellectual agents provocateurs whose role was to challenge conventional thinking with "rule-breaking" brilliance - even when , especially when, the conventional thinking was right.
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